Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila made history when he earned a gold medal at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. His speed and agility won him the gold, but it was barefoot running that made him a legend.
When the shoes Bikila was given for the race didn't fit comfortably, he ditched them for his bare feet. After all, that's the way he had trained for the Olympics in his homeland.
Racing shoeless led to success for Bikila, and now, more than 50 years later, runners are continuing to take barefoot strides. Several Olympic runners have followed Bikila and nationally the trend has exploded over the past decade. There's even a national association dedicated to barefoot running. However, scientists are stuck on whether it either prevents or increases injuries.
"Bikila may have been on to something," said Carey Rothschild, an instructor of physical therapy at the University of Central Florida in Orlando who specializes in orthopedic sports injuries. "The research is really not conclusive on whether one approach is better than the other. But what is clear is that it's really a matter of developing a good running form and sticking to it, not suddenly changing it."
Rothschild, a 12-year runner who has completed the Boston Marathon three times, reviewed research and found injuries happened with or without shoes. So she conducted a survey with the help of the Track Shack in Orlando to get to the bottom of the controversy.
What she found was striking.
Most people said they turned to barefoot running in the hopes of improving performance and reducing injuries. Ironically, those who said they never tried it avoided it for fear it would cause injuries and slow their times.
However, research shows that there are risks to running no matter what someone puts on his or her feet.
Barefoot runners tend to land on their mid or forefoot as opposed to the heel, which good athletic shoes try to cushion.
|Contact: Zenaida Kotala|
University of Central Florida